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Continuing Lost in Musik’s look at the various facets of music we thought it would be good idea to look at the black art of dance music promotion. In days gone by the artist made the tune, got it signed, the label distributed it and employed a promotion company to get it in the relevant tastemakers hands. Today with social media and digital downloads it’s a rapidly changing scene. So it’s one thing to make a killer track, but just what do you do then? and in the current musical landscape what can a promotion company offer todays multi-functional artist?
To help answer those questions and more we caught up with Ian Straker – one the minds behind seminal underground house label Lost My Dog and Kahua Music, a leading UK music promotions company who have worked their promotional magic for artists/Labels ranging from OM Records, Bakerstreet, Phil Weeks, S.N.U.S, Inland Knights to DJ Pierre and more. Onwards into enlightenment …
When did you first discover music and get to where you are now?
My earliest musical memories are travelling places in the car with my mum and dad listening to guys like Fleetwood Mac, Mike & The Mechanics, Steely Dan and The Eagles. I’m still into that stuff now although I’m afraid to say my first music purchases were Vanilla Ice, Chaka Demus & Pliers and Reel 2 Real (only years later did I discover it was Erick Morillo!). Proper dance music (no offence Mr Morillo!) started happening for me in the mid 90’s with artists like Chemical Brothers, Prodigy, Fatboy Slim and Daft Punk – I started DJing and after going away to University got more involved playing out, organising events, working at the student radio station, working in a record store part-time and then setting up Lost My Dog Records with Pete Dafeet and Najan Ward. After graduating I opened my own record shop with a friend (called Kahua Music) and over the following 3-4 years that kinda morphed into what Kahua is now offering promotions and business development services.
What was the best night of your life?
Has to be when I got the chance to DJ at The Bomb in Nottingham (now sadly closed). From my first visit there as a clubber that venue pretty much shaped the style of music I was into – the vibe of the place was second to none and there wasn’t a drop of attitude. So after several years of going there as a clubber I was given the opportunity to play after my good friends from Homegrown got invited to host a night. It was the realisation of a dream to be stood on the spot of so many of my heroes like Derrick Carter, Stacey Pullen and Jay Tripwire with a full club and all my friends right at the front.
Music makes you… ?
“Lose control” as Les Rhythmes Digitales said. Or “music is the answer” as Danny Tenaglia said. And specifically on house music, in the words of Eddie Amador, “it’s a spiritual thing, a body thing, a soul thing.” I wouldn’t look to top any of those sentiments really.
What is your guiltiest pleasure?
Air Crash Investigation on National Geographic. Can’t get enough of it! Always been a bit of a closet aviation fan (actually not so closet really, I did a degree in the area!) and I’m quite fascinated by plane crashes and how they go about finding out the causes. I was also in America recently and got hooked on ‘Storage Wars’ – guys that run thrift stores and go to auctions to bid for storage lock-ups then sell whatever they inherit, captivating!
How did Kahua music promotion start?
It kinda happened organically, I’d been doing all the promotional work in-house for Lost My Dog for a few years with some success and had built up some great relationships and a database of contacts. Running a record shop at the time I started to notice how lots of other labels weren’t promoting and exposing themselves very well, so I thought I’d put some of my experiences to use and began contacting a few labels where I knew the owners. Things just developed from there.
I got to hear of you through word of mouth and events, how import is that for company like Kahua?
Pretty crucial I’d say, about 90% of new business comes in that way. We’ve never done any real ‘marketing’ other than activities to showcase some of our work and so the recommendations we get are really important. As with most things, I think it’s always more effective to have other people saying nice things than to be going out beating down doors. I’m interested in all aspects of the music industry, even those I don’t directly work in, and have a thirst for knowledge so tend to find myself at a load of seminars and networks events which is always useful for getting the name out.
Music is forever being split into new categories, do you guys specialise in particular areas of Dance or cover a wide spectrum of genres?
We tend to focus mostly on house music, and within that on the more underground styles of deep, tech and soulful house. That comes down to the music we love most and it’s easy to get motivated working with music that you enjoy. I figure there’s also a pretty good argument to be good at what you do in a specific niche area than a jack of all trades master of none. We have also worked on a couple of pop projects and some hip hop/broken beat along the way, again always when we really love the music and think we can achieve results. We’ll never take something on if we don’t believe in it ourselves first and foremost.
With ever-growing numbers of digital releases every week, how is this impacting Kahua promotion strategies?
It’s certainly a challenge try to get music noticed amongst the avalanche of new stuff that comes out now. Because the company was born when the ‘digital revolution’ was already in full swing then we’ve always been used to doing things in new ways and having a flexible approach is definitely important. Every campaign can be different depending on the aims and objectives, and the traditional pre-release ‘timeline’ is pretty much out the window now. We have our own in-house digital delivery system which helps massively in offering the flexibility – it automates all of the sending and feedback collection and builds detailed analytics which allow for targeted sending at the click of a few buttons.
For the uninitiated producer just starting out, how would you describe music promotion and its benefits to them ?
At the highest level music promotion boils down to getting noticed and, however good your music is, if you’re not doing something to help get it noticed then it will largely be overlooked. At a more detailed level it includes a whole range of things from your brand and image, getting support and recommendations from tastemakers, communicating with others in the industry, communicating with customers and fans, effectively using any channel which allows your music to be heard by somebody, exploiting all the various guises of marketing and so on.
Music Promotion is often considered to centre on releases, but this to me is only a fraction of it, what do Kahua offer producers?
Yes, a lot of people tend to approach promotion on a release by release basis – I think within dance music that’s because of the nature of the genre, with labels aiming for quick hits and artists signing one-off projects to a wide variety of labels. Labels are much stronger brands in their own right within dance and because they often only get a small chunk of time working with a particular artist they have to focus on the specific current project. In most other genres an artist signs to a label exclusively and therefore the opportunities to work on longer term campaigns focused around the artist are there. Because Kahua works within dance music we naturally have some focus on the release by release model, but we do definitely see that people who adopt a longer term approach to their promotion ultimately have more success. In terms of Kahua’s offer it covers all of the areas mentioned in the previous question – we can assist with individual elements whether that’s the initial message and brand, getting music to tastemakers, improving online presence etc, or run all-encompassing campaigns.
Do you offer services for unsigned producers?
Mostly we work with record labels and more established artists, but we have worked with a few brand new artists along the way to help get them moving in the right direction. The uniqueness of dance music also plays a part in terms of what makes a ‘signed’ artist vs an ‘unsigned’ artist – for a lot of producers the latest demo is always unsigned because they don’t have an exclusive affiliation to any one label and have to shop it around to get released. There are no ‘off the shelf’ services for our work with unsigned producers, we’ll talk to people to see what their aims and objectives are and take it from there.
For an up and coming producer, what do you think three promotional “must dos” are?
- Make sure the quality is there before you do anything else – when all is said and done the music is still by far the most important factor in being successful and I think there’s too many people trying to go too fast with average or poor music, rather than developing their skills first.
- Have patience – instant overnight success is rare so you need to be prepared to stick at it and be patient. We live in a world now where we demand instant gratification, but some things still take time and need to be built up.
- Be consistent – try to make sure that you present yourself and your music in a consistent manner as it will help to plant the message over time.
What is the biggest mistake producers and artists who come to you are doing that effects their image?
First impressions are always important, so getting that initial communication right can make a big difference. It’s important to present yourself and your music well at every stage, even if you’re sending out your first ever demo, and it’s good to show some thought in terms of direction and what you’re looking to achieve. There’s far too many emails these days that just say “I made my first track and want to get it to the masses.”
Music industry is going through a lot of changes in terms of revenue generation, how do you see music promotion changing due to this?
This feeds into the question above about promotion covering more than just releases. Overall I think that music producers and record labels will need to open themselves up to more income streams and the promotion strategy will shift away from being focused on promoting individual releases to be about promoting the artist as a whole. So rather than focusing on ultimately selling music to public, the strategy will incorporate much more in terms of overall profile building, exploiting social channels, and appealing to a far wider range of people from event promoters, to music synch supervisors, to brands. Much of this is happening already, it just that as you mentioned earlier the ‘promotion’ tag is still associated with sending music to tastemakers on a release by release basis.
For any of our readers wanting to get involved with music promotion what would you recommend?
Jump right in! There’s no real rules as such, it’s all about finding the right audience for your music whether you do that yourself or with help from elsewhere. I’d also say it’s a good idea to make a plan at the start of what you’re trying to achieve, what your overall image and message is, and any milestones to set along the way. Then make sure the quality is good, make a good first impression, be consistent and have some patience.
Thanks for your time Ian, are there any current projects or artists you’d like to recommend to our readers?
I’d certainly recommend checking out Giom’s new compilation ‘Clips & Space’, which also just happens to be on Lost My Dog (had to get a plug in somewhere!) Other guys I’m really enjoying right now are Remote People and the music on their label Remote Records, all of the guys releasing on Deep Edition Recordings, Nacho Marco from Spain, and still doing it as solid as ever Phil Weeks.
Ian, thanks again for the chat. If any of you readers and thinking about sourcing some professional assistance then we can definitely recommend you have a chat with Ian directly about how Kahua can help to raise your music profile. To do so head over to Kahua Music’s website for further details.
Hope you guys enjoyed the interview, in coming weeks we’re going to be looking further at services to help you get your music heard so be sure to keep checking back.
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We’ll leave you with an old classic from Lost My Dog and Pete Dafeet – Love undercover. Cool skippy percussion, deep pads, with a catchy twisting vocal line, make this a killer track to bring the girls to the dancefloor ;p